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Unique underfloor discoveries at Oxburgh Hall

An archaeologist working alone at Oxburgh Hall during lockdown has uncovered thousands of rare items under the floorboards.

It is being hailed as one of the largest and most significant underfloor archaeology hauls in a National Trust house.

A page from a rare 15th-century illuminated manuscript was among the items recovered, many dating back to the Tudor period. Finds range from fragments of late 16th century books to high status

Curataor Anna Forest with a piece of the silk fabric (40684842)
Curataor Anna Forest with a piece of the silk fabric (40684842)

Elizabethan textiles, as well as more mundane modern objects such as cigarette packets and an empty box of Terry’s chocolates that date to the Second World War – which may have been hidden after the chocolates were eaten.

The discovery was made during a project to reroof Oxburgh Hall which includes lifting many of the floorboards in the attic rooms to repair floor joists. Independent archaeologist Matt Champion agreed to continue through lockdown on his own and carried out a careful fingertip search.

Anna Forest, the National Trust curator, said it was the first time anybody had searched under the floorboard in centuries.

A 15th century illuminated manuscript (National Trust images) (40678756)
A 15th century illuminated manuscript (National Trust images) (40678756)

“When the boards came up, we could see a wave pattern in the debris which showed it had been undisturbed for centuries,” she said.

“The peak of each wave of dust, debris and objects was highest under the crack between the boards. In was often inches thick and lay on top of a layer of lime plaster, which drew out the moisture from the debris and resulted in much of it being perfectly preserved over the centuries

“The value of underfloor archaeology to our understanding of Oxburgh’s social history is enormous.”

The star find was the 15th-century illuminated manuscript fragment on parchment spotted in the rubble of the eaves by one of the builders. Despite centuries amongst debris, the glimmer of gold leaf and bright blue of the illuminated initials was still vibrant.

The 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes (40678759)
The 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes (40678759)

In the north west corner of the house, two ancient rats’ nests were found to contain over 200 individual fragments of high quality textiles including silk, velvet, satin, leather, wool and embroidered fabrics, which have been dated to between the second half of the 16th century and the 18th century. The nests also contained some scraps of handwritten music from the 16th century.

The most recent discovery, spotted in an attic void by a builder, is a complete book called the King’s Psalms dated 1568. Complete with its gilded leather binding, it is almost intact.

Russell Clement, general manager, said: “We had hoped to learn more of the history of the house during the reroofing work graffiti recording but these finds are far beyond anything we expected to see. These objects contain so many clues which confirm the history of the house as the retreat of a devout Catholic family, who retained their faith across the centuries.

“This is a building which is giving up its secrets slowly. We don’t know what else we might come across or what might remain hidden for future generations to reveal.”

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